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Nevada Is Special Test for Parties

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Former Nevada Republican Party Chairman Mark Amodei is considered to have the edge in a district that has never elected a Democrat since it was created after the 1980 census.

As leaders focus on debt negotiations on Capitol Hill, their top political operatives are digging in for the two-month stretch to the special election in Nevada, where the parties have their last chance to road-test their messaging ahead of 2012.

Former Nevada Republican Party Chairman Mark Amodei begins as the favorite to win in the 2nd district, which has never elected a Democrat in the 30 years of its existence. But President Barack Obama came within 100 votes of carrying it in 2008, and Democrats see a path to victory for state Treasurer Kate Marshall, with assistance from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The general sense among insiders is that if Amodei wins, the election will have gone as expected in the conservative district. But if Marshall pulls off an upset, Democrats could spin it in any number of directions, including its implications on the Senate and presidential races next year.

The game of expectation-setting is already under way.

“While there is a way she can win by developing a contrast between her and Amodei, I don’t think anyone is under any illusions that this is anything but an uphill battle,” said a Democratic source familiar with Nevada.

The message wars have already begun, and both sides believe they have the upper hand on the debt ceiling issue. The Amodei campaign opened the race running squarely against Obama and Reid, who both have high negatives in this district, according to Amodei media consultant Rob Stutzman.

Democrats say Amodei is willing to gamble Medicare benefits for seniors, a message prominently used in now-Rep. Kathy Hochul’s (D-N.Y.) upset win in a May special election.

“We’re prepared to engage on Medicare,” Stutzman said. “We also think she’s reacted to us defining the race out of the gate about debt, taxes and the economy.”

Amodei began airing his second TV ad this week, which portrays the former longtime state legislator as someone who will stand up to the two Democratic leaders in Washington. He promises to “cut taxes and not increase the Obama debt limit.”

“President Obama and Harry Reid have given us more out-of-control spending, a huge debt, and now they’re pushing for job-killing taxes,” Amodei says in the ad, which is running on network and cable television.

It follows a controversial ad that imagined a world in which Chinese troops march on the Capitol grounds because the U.S. could not pay its debts.

Responding to the most recent ad, Nevada Democratic Party spokesman Zach Hudson said, “Considering Amodei already wants to end Medicare, it’s no surprise that he would gamble with Nevada senior citizens’ Social Security checks now, too.”

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